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Strict Policies Needed to Stop Land Grabs: Advocate

In this photo taken Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010, a service train operated by Toll Royal Cambodia passes over a river, just south of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. An Australian joint venture has a 30-year lease to upgrade and operate Cambodia's railway, p

Eang Vuthy, a housing rights advocate at Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, says donors like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank need to be more strict in their policies if land grabs are to be curbed in Cambodia.

He and other land rights activists are currently in Washington, meeting with donors and US officials in an effort to allay the impacts of development on Cambodia’s poor. The World Bank is holding an annual meeting and the ABD is currently reviewing its policies on projects.

The World Bank has been critical of its own programs in Cambodia and has frozen funding to the country pending better protections of land rights. And the ADB recently underwent intense scrutiny for a railway project that displaced many families who later complained of poor living conditions at resettlement sites.

“The government, before borrowing from the World Bank or ADB, should apply the policies,” Eang Vuthy told VOA Khmer.

Some 4,000 families have been adversely affected by land disputes, with about 80 percent of them evicted from their land and facing worse conditions, he said. “After changing their residences, all these people fall into poverty, debt and other serious issues.”

International donor policies need to include safeguards against this, he said, so that people who are moved for the sake of development do not face more hardship. “Every deal should include infrastructure or other public services before people change residence,” he said.

So far, the government has failed to provide much to families that are moved for development’s sake. In Battambang province, for example, people were moved onto land with no water, electricity or other basic services, he said.

Stricter policies must be enforced, he said. “The government will have a contract to apply the policy and must follow it. Set the policy.”